5 Expert Tips for Caring for Senior Pets

November 1, 2023

Tan cat

Although we wish they could stay young forever, a greying muzzle or slower walks could be signs that your dog is growing older. It's important to note these changes because as your pets age, the care they require could change as well.While there is no set age to determine when a dog is considered a senior, there are some guidelines based on size. Small-sized dogs are considered seniors around nine to 11 years, medium-sized dogs around eight to 10 years, large-sized dogs around eight or nine years and for giant breeds, around six years.

While your pet may be slowing down in their senior years, you can still have a lot of fun with them and continue to create special moments. In fact, it’s a great reminder to slow down and enjoy the small things in life. To keep your pet feeling their best as they reach their golden years, our experts at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) offer five tips to help make these next years the best ones yet!

1. Visit the vet regularly.

Regular checkups by your veterinarian are important—and as your pets age, you should consider multiple checkups a year. Because senior pets are more likely to develop health issues, it is better to try and catch those issues early, so senior pets should see a veterinarian at least twice a year. If your senior pet is currently being treated for a health issue, they may need more frequent checkups. Veterinarians are going to be paying attention to sudden changes in weight, dental health, changes in drinking or eating habits, your pet’s mobility, listening to changes in your pet’s heart as well as monitoring lab tests that can detect changes to kidney or liver function.

2. Be consistent with exercise.

Like humans, when our pets get older, they tend to slow down and become less active.  While this is natural, it is important to make sure they still get some age-appropriate exercise. Exercise can help minimize loss of muscle and strength, decrease weight gain and obesity, and can help with joint pain and stiffness.  The amount of exercise your pet needs depends on how active your pet has been recently and what health issues they may have. If your pet has not been very active, then start out slowly with short walks and increase them as your pet gets used to them. The most important thing is consistency!

3. Make adjustments for their mobility.

Difficulty getting around can be a fact of life for senior pets, so making some modifications around the house may be necessary. If cuddling up on a bed or couch is a favorite pastime, consider adding stairs to make it easier for them to get up. Alternatively, moving their bed closer to where you sleep can make them feel more comfortable. Moving food and water bowls and their bed to the main floor of your home so they don’t have to use the stairs can also be helpful, as well as using a ramp to get outside instead of stairs.

4. Update their diet.

As pets get older and slow down, their metabolism is going to slow down as well. Unfortunately, weight gain can be hard on senior pets. Consider changing to a diet made for senior pets and giving lower calorie treats. Luckily, there are many options that may fit your pets’ needs.

5. Keep up with their grooming.

As pets age it is important to recognize their grooming needs may change as well.  They may have trouble keeping themselves clean or reaching areas to groom, so more frequent bathing or trimmings may be necessary. Their coat may need more frequent brushing to help keep it from tangling and causing discomfort or difficulty moving. Check your pet’s nails regularly—if they get too long it may make it harder for them to get around, particularly on hard surfaces.